Starring KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare. Directed by Adam Mason.
When Covid-19 turned the world upside down, it was only a matter of time before someone made a movie about it. You’d be forgiven for thinking that someone might wait until it wasn’t still killing the population of the planet, but then again, when has Michael Bay been that sensitive? This is the man who turned the Pearl Harbour attack into an action sequence, and the raid of Benghazi into a slick action flick.
Songbird sees coronavirus in its fourth year, having turned the US into a series of safe zones where immune people are derided as mutants, with special bracelets acting as bike deliveries to people in isolation. Meanwhile, those infected are taken by sanitation teams to interment camps.
Adam Mason, who directs and co-writes, has an idea in his head — the US would react radically and nastily to an extended pandemic — and it’s not a surprise to see why. This is a film that was written during the original lockdown, and made when things eased up, and for this reason it feels like a film that’s rushed; the ideas are there, but not explored entirely.
We are introduced to a roster of characters all portrayed well by their performers; delivery boy Nico (KJ Apa), locked-down love interest Sara (Sofia Carson), his boss Lester (Craig Robinson), lonely singer May (Alexandra Daddario), paraplegic soldier Dozer (Paul Walter Hauser), unhinged sanitation supervisor Harland (Peter Stormare) and wealthy couple and black market dealers William (Bradley Whitford) and Emma (Demi Moore).
Remarkably, Mason does a good job of setting them all up. It’s broad character work fully in the realm of cliche, but Mason wisely casts a good troupe of actors anchored by Apa and Carson who sell the Romeo & Juliet style love story well, though it’s naturally Stomare’s hammy, scenery-chewing performance that is the most entertaining.
Mason’s issues are clear: the writing is weak, his direction is pretty poor and the camera needs a tripod desperately. In addition, the idea of the wasteland is undone by the usual science fiction trappings that occur in these sorts of films.
Elsewhere, the score by Lorne Balfe is good and as sinister as you would want, though the film’s title is painfully unexplained, and the subplots at times strain hard to be connected meaningfully.
It may feel to many like crass commercialisation of a real-world tragedy, and in some ways it is, but there are enough elements and just decent movie shlock to enjoy it if your brain is removed, and you want to see decent movie people elevate a paper-thin script.